High Plains Lifters

Feb. 1, 2007

An arid patch of High Plains scrubland in southeastern Wyoming has become the scene of what may well prove to be the Air Force’s most important personnel experiment in years.

There, in the town of Cheyenne, USAF has brought together active duty and Air National Guard airmen in an attempt to compel peacetime co-habitation. The goal: Prove that the two components, despite different cultures and procedures, can work together under the command of an Air Guardsman.

A visitor to Cheyenne, a town at 6,000 feet elevation and within sight of the majestic Rocky Mountains range, finds genuine enthusiasm for this project. Still, there’s no roadmap for what lies ahead, and both sides agree there is no assurance of success.

The focus of the effort is the 153rd Airlift Wing of the Wyoming Air National Guard, a C-130 unit at Cheyenne’s regional airport. Its operations building is located near a hangar festooned with Wyoming’s popular bucking-horse-and-rider seal. The symbolism seems apt, given the difficulties ahead.

The 153rd has become the first Guard wing to gain operational control of an active duty unit. The unit is the 30th Airlift Squadron, formed last July with active duty members.

Those airmen are flying ANG C-130 aircraft. They work side by side with Air Guardsmen. More importantly, they report to—and take operational orders from—a Guardsman. He is Col. Harold Reed, commander of the 153rd.

Though the 30th AS is now just one of some 20 units under the 153rd AW, there is no doubt it is very much an active duty unit. Its members are still active duty personnel and are functionally under Air Mobility Command. Their training is different from the Air Guardsmen.

The administrative control of 30th AS personnel is held by the active duty 463rd Airlift Group, in Little Rock AFB, Ark. This unit handles personnel issues such as promotions for these airmen, but everything else comes from the Air Guard.

“Active Associate”

The 30th is the Air Force’s first “active associate” squadron. USAF long has benefited from “reserve associates”—Air Force Reserve units affilitated with larger active duty wings. However, this new arrangement goes in the other direction. For that reason, some call it the “reverse associate” concept.

Whatever the name, it is forging a Guard-active partnership never before seen in the Air Force.

The 153rd Airlift Wing, activated on Aug. 10, 1946, was among the first Air Guard units created after World War II. While it has undergone many changes over the last six decades, it is safe to say none have been as challenging as today’s.

“There are lots of questions,” said CMSgt. Doug Hensala, a maintainer with the Wyoming ANG’s 187th AS. “We have a real steep learning curve.”

This particular setup required writing a new concept of operations addressing legal and operational challenges that have—and will—crop up. It took two years to hammer out.

How is the experiment progressing thus far

For months, the 30th AS has been in “the build-up phase,” said Lt. Col. Steven Hopkins, commander of the 30th. The unit has been receiving taskings from the National Guard Bureau, but its activation will not be complete until this month. Then, it could start to receive AMC taskings for overseas deployments.

By December, the active personnel flew through the first of three manning phases to become a fully deployable unit, months ahead of schedule. It only took a month for the active duty crews to start flying with the Wyoming Guard crews on Wyoming airplanes. At that time, four air crews were fully integrated into wing operations and maintainer units at Cheyenne.

The 30th’s first group of 77 active duty airmen came from around the world—Pope AFB, N.C., Dyess AFB, Tex., Little Rock AFB, Ark., Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, and Yokota Air Base in Japan. Most had experience with the C-130. By the end of this month, the squadron will have grown to 137 airmen, heading toward a goal of 180.

Guardsmen now and always will far outnumber Cheyenne’s active airmen. At present, the 153rd has 1,200 Guardsmen, 400 of whom are full-time. “We are just another squadron in the hierarchy of the 153rd AW,” Hopkins said.

The 30th AS participates in training, local flying, and all other missions it normally would perform while operating from an active base. The 30th has “melded into the wing,” said a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Military Department.

The spokeswoman said the state Guard’s C-130 flights can be crewed with any mix of Guard and active duty members, depending on the mission and who is available. Individual active airmen can plug in and work in predominantly Guard crews.

In November, for example, a C-130 crewed by Guardsmen and one active duty loadmaster air dropped a group of Navy Seals into the area around Norfolk, Va., as part of a training exercise.

A Push From BRAC

Creation of a reverse associate unit stemmed from the work of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission.

It proposed, for the sake of efficiency, shifting four C-130Hs of the Idaho ANG’s 124th Wing at Boise to the Wyoming Guard at Cheyenne, which already had eight. The sunk cost could be spread more effectively across a larger flying wing.

However, it paired that recommendation with another—that an associate unit should be created, with active duty associating on the ANG aircraft.

According to BRAC, the unit would support a Total Force USAF, which was contemplating active duty units commanded by Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve officers.

These reverse associate units are expected to generate several distinct benefits.

First, the service gets a chance to season some of its young, active duty airmen by associating them on a day-to-day basis with older and more experienced Guard members.

“The vast majority of our [Guard] maintainers are a little older and a little more experienced,” said Brig. Gen. Charles V. Ickes II, deputy director of the Air National Guard in Washington. “They will more rapidly [give] experience [to] the young active duty folks.”

Second, the Air Force can make fuller use of all of its Total Force mobility assets—specifically, Guard C-130s. Active duty airmen will gain greater access to Guard airplanes.

This is necessary because USAF cannot buy more C-130s (at $90 million apiece) to fill out active mobility forces in their entirety.

For USAF officials, Cheyenne was attractive for several reasons. One, evidently, was the quality of 153rd AW leadership. Last year, the wing’s 187th AS won the Spaatz Trophy as the outstanding Air National Guard unit for 2006.

Another factor in Cheyenne’s favor was its proximity to F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., an active duty base. Airmen go there for medical, commissary, family support, schooling, and similiar needs. Also at F.E. Warren, the active airmen receive their combat arms training and carry out their administrative communications with the 463rd AG.

From all appearances at the wing, the transition has not negatively affected operational matters.

Each year, the Wyoming ANG is federalized for Coronet Oak, a deployment in support of US Southern Command’s movement of troops and equipment through Central and South America. The 153rd AW’s personnel—both active duty and Guardsmen—flew Coronet Oak missions in late 2006. This entailed two-week rotations of a pair of C-130s and 50 air and ground crew members.

Out in Cheyenne, active airmen appear eager to participate with the Guard units in the US Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System missions. (See “Aerospace World: Air Force C-130s Fight Fires,” July 2002, p. 14.) MAFFS traditionally is a reserve mission, and training is held every May. Hopkins and the Wyoming Guard leadership will decide whether active airmen will be selected.

At present, one active duty airman from the 30th has been dispatched to Yuma, Ariz., to take part in Operation Jump Start, the US Border Patrol’s border enforcement mission. The Wyoming wing may send more airmen later this year.

Pushing and Shoving

Despite years of planning, there has been some pushing and shoving. Guard and active leaders note several issues.

One problem stemmed from different views of scheduling and working hours. Guard personnel tend to work a traditional eight-hour day. Active personnel do not, instead putting in extra hours or working late to finish a job. The way the active force schedules its work “does not take into consideration the [Guard’s] technician … force,” said a Guardsman.

Sorting out the funding responsibilities was also an issue.

Title 10 covers federal missions, applying to both active and reserve forces, while Title 32 applies to the National Guard operating under state control but performing duties of federal interest, such as responding to a terrorist attack. In both cases, funding comes from the federal coffer. However, under current law, Guard officers in Title 32 status cannot command Title 10 forces. And, to be in Title 10 status, a Guardsman must be called to active duty.

Then there is the third status in which Guard forces operate solely in state service under control of the governor and financed by the state. Governors usually employ their Guard forces in this status to handle such things as natural disaster relief. When Wyoming calls upon the 153rd AW in its state role, the unit’s active duty airmen may also participate but they’re still paid by Uncle Sam.

State-run missions traditionally are performed only by a state’s own Guard unit. However, the wing’s concept of operations included some “operational direction” provisions allowing active duty members to participate in purely state-directed missions such as fire fighting, which would be under the direction of Gov. David D. Freudenthal.

“If Governor Freudenthal wants the Guard to deliver hay, the active duty airmen could join [in],” Hopkins said.

AMC, and not the Guard, pays any extra costs incurred by the 30th AS. This could include building more practice airdrop loads for training or laying on additional flying hours.

For office supplies and computers, “we have developed a fair share system” by splitting the cost, Hopkins remarked. The 153rd AW is responsible for all infrastructure bills needed to operate the C-130s.

Both sides have noted the extra cost of a new squadron.

The main operations building once housed just a few Guardsmen. Now, it is crammed with desks, chairs, computers, filing cabinets, and boxes that fill up not only offices but also hallways.

“We feel bad because we’re infringing on their personal space,” said MSgt. Larry Barto, an active duty loadmaster.

Plans call for a new operations building with office space totaling 37,000 square feet—14,000 of which were belatedly added to accommodate the new active forces. The completion date has been set at summer 2008.

The project will be jointly funded; ANG will provide $9 million, and AMC will pony up at least $3.2 million.

Different Cultures

It is evident that the two sides are striving mightily to get along and make the experiment work. For all that, though, cultural differences remain.

SMSgt. Rick McKean, a 30th AS flight engineer, believes the differences between Guard and active duty have nothing to do with actually flying the airplane and everything to do with differing procedures on the ground.

“We push the same buttons and do the same things to get the knobs turned and the airplane airborne,” McKean explained. “The big difference for us is getting from inside the building to the airplane. There’s different steps and different procedures.”

As an active duty airman at a Guard base, said McKean, he feels “a bit like a duck out of water, because it’s not secondhand nature like it’s been for most of our careers.”

Procedures differ on everything from checking out a helmet to organizing and cleaning a shop.

Hopkins noted the cleanliness of the Guard’s buildings and equipment. This, he said, stemmed partly from pride of ownership and partly from having more time for spruce ups.

Three Guard crew chiefs have watched all eight of the 153rd’s airplanes come off the assembly line, and they take excellent care of these airplanes, Hopkins said.

The interaction of older Guardsmen and younger active airmen creates a distinct atmosphere at Cheyenne. “The overall maturity level is higher,” said Barto. “It’s the big boy program.”

The Air Force likes this arrangement. Guardsmen can share experiences, said Barto, and many seem pleased to have the chance to do this.

“We want this to be a success,” said Col. Steve Rader, the 153rd’s operations group commander. “We want every active person to be a success. … We want to assimilate the best of both into the dual culture.”